These are Sri Lankans. We are fighting for them. Photo by Sabral
In love and war being direct is rarely the best option. Everyone from the JVP to George W. Bush to many Sri Lankan bloggers have drawn the obvious conclusion of ‘us good, terrorists bad’. This is, IMHO, true. GOSL sucks but I prefer our lumbering democracy to a terrofacist dictator any day. Unfortunately, pointing out this fact is about as effective as telling a girl she has a nice ass. It may be true, but it’s not how the game is played. The boys are all cock and no foreplay. War – like sex – is all in the mind. They can state the obvious but actually winning this war requires thought, strategy and compromise rather than the chest-thumping of ‘us good, terror bad’. No shit. Now how do we win?
The Truth is Not a Bulletproof Vest
I won’t argue that the LTTE is good. They’re not. I don’t even support a moderate Tamil state because
it makes the map look hideous I don’t think a racially defined state is good for anyone. I won’t belabour this point because it’s irrelevant. Stating that the LTTE is bad is true but that doesn’t stop the assassination of Peace Secretariat officials, cleansing of Muslim villages and cutting off of water to thousands more. For the record, that’s just stuff the LTTE has done this week. The truth is good but it is not a strategy in itself. So everyone from the JVP to your local blogger has figured out that the LTTE is bad. Now Prabha is going to be like, ‘Oh shit, why didn’t anybody tell me? Is my fly open too?’ Or not.
That simplistic vision will win debates, it will win elections, but it will not win the war. This war has is much more than a ‘nazis bad’ type situation. However, before I get into that I’d like to clarify who I’m talking about in the Sri Lankan context and who the logic most closely resembles.
JVP and Hardliners
A lot of moderate to extreme people have a similar opinion which, while being, commendable in its intent, is thoroughly unworkable and doesn’t not lead to victory. That being the important thing, more than pride. I’m sure you’ve seen this argument various places online, but it’s probably elucidated best in the JVPs 20 points, which Neville de Silva reviewed in the Sunday Times:
‘The JVP calls for “reinforcing democracy in the North and East.” While [many] are genuinely concerned with political pluralism and the right of the people in the region to exercise political freedoms, the JVPs objective is easier said than done. How is it to be achieved? That of course is not made clear in that document… The JVP suggests that military power be used to free the Northeast from terrorists and to enforce government rule in uncleared areas.
In short what the JVP says is this. Free the area of terrorism, enforce the government’s edict in the uncleared areas and then hold talks with the Tigers, if the sequential arrangement of the 20-points implies its logic.’
So basically, terrorists bad, any military action is justified. Internally, this argument takes the form of attacking NGOs and any moderates as terrorist sympathizers cause they just don’t see. The LTTEs general suckiness is a justification for military action and that’s all that’s needed. I however, do not care. I don’t want military action for revenge or nominal justice, I just want us to win this war so I can go back to writing about something else. There is a big difference between knowing your enemy and defeating your enemy. There is a difference between military action taken out of pride and military action taken out of strategy and realpolitik. One wins elections and loses wars while the other wins the peace. As one case in point we have,
George W. Bush and the War on Terror
G Dub has a compelling vision of the current struggle in the world and a very idealistic emphasis on the values of democracy and freedom. He has won elections implying that his opponents are soft on terror because of their nuance while his military action is firm and resolute. That simplistic view of the world wins debates and elections. Who the hell is going to argue for terrorism? There’s no weaker argument than ‘er, it’s complex’ so Bush can do all kinds of incompetent and immoral things because he’s got the truth as a bulletproof vest. Or not. That simplistic approach doesn’t win wars and it doesn’t win the peace. That self-righteous pride has resulted in thousands dead in Iraq and a Middle East dominated by the near-nuclear Iran and its proxies in Iraq and Lebanon. Now America has its balls in a vice, but it’s all good cause they’ve got ‘us good, terrorists bad’ to keep them warm at night. However, swallow your pride a little and you might actually stand a chance of winning. Like the recent British bust of a huge terror plot. As Fred Kaplan said in Slate,
“There’s a broader lesson here, and it speaks to the Bush administration’s present jam throughout the Middle East and in other danger zones. If the British had adopted the same policy toward dealing with Pakistan that Bush has adopted toward dealing with, say, Syria or Iran (namely, it’s an evil regime, and we don’t speak with evil regimes), then a lot of passenger planes would have shattered and spilled into the ocean, hundreds or thousands of people would have died, and the world would have suddenly been plunged into very scary territory.”
Anyways, the current US mess shows what happens when you pursue simplistic pride over strategy. Now Sri Lankans are playing the same game at their peril. Real strategy is much more complex than simply saying that terrorists are bad and we should defeat them. Great. How?
The Sri Lankan ethnic conflict, like most modern ‘wars’, has a few characteristics which make it more than a traditional artillery and land war. These also make winning it different from simply saying terrorists are bad and supporting whatever the military does.
This is a Civil War
We are not capturing land or ‘taking the battle to them’. We are fighting on our own territory, inhabited by our own citizens. In Israel today there’s a notable lack of opposition to the artillery and ground attacks on Lebanon. This is because they’re not bombing Israel. Bombing is pretty shit all around, but it’s quite another thing to bomb your own country.
More than anything the situation in Muttur highlights the criminally woeful state of Sri Lanka’s disaster preparedness. Post-tsunami, we should – like Thailand – be able to send a general hazard warning anywhere in the country, but especially to a region like Muttur. The funds and support were there. Instead we have something like 50,000 refugees and NGOs (evil evil!) being denied humanitarian access to the area. If this was another country the government could be justified not caring, but these are Sri Lankan citizens in Sri Lanka and we are fighting for them.
The people who curse the protestors and ignore the refugees as collateral have already lost the war. They are the terrorist sympathizers because they have given the LTTE that land. They have said, ‘this is not Sri Lanka, and we can bomb the shit out of it without warning or evacuating these people’. They have given up on their fellow Sri Lankans and the united Sri Lanka that protects them. By their callous pride they have ceded our land and people to the LTTE with nary a peep. All for pride. For pride they would lose this war.
Victory in this war means that people in the North and East are provided security and freedom under the Sri Lanka government. The LTTE has unjustly cut off water to thousands of villages and the government is right to respond. The shelling is both government and LTTE, and the LTTE atrocities are much worse. However, unlike the LTTE, we cannot run rampant across the civilian population. Sri Lanka is better than that and we don’t need to model our behavior on terrorist standards. It’s not an excuse to say ‘but the LTTE does worse’. That’s not the standard we hold ourselves to and that’s not what we’re fighting for. There is an obvious strategic and humanitarian advantage to the offensive in Muttur, but GOSL also has the added burden of protecting and evacuating the innocent citizens in that area.
This is not a purely humanitarian issue. It is strategic in that the goal state – a United Sri Lanka – means that they should feel that the government at least gives a shit. Also, terrorist wars are intelligence driven, and it’s hard to get cooperation from people who you’ve displaced and ignored. On both counts GOSL has to hold itself to a higher standard and the peace protestors are doing their fellow countrymen and our national cause a service by saying so. That is victory, and that is true patriotism. Not cynical and prideful militarism, but actual steps towards a united Sri Lanka. That is victory in this civil war. Victory means protecting the people of Muttur and showing that the LTTE are the bad guys, cutting off water and shelling the people we’re trying to evacuate. That would be a global PR victory more than the muddied message that’s getting out now. We can compromise our values to win battles, but we risk losing the war.
A United Sri Lanka is what we’re fighting for, not a simple water supply. We are fighting for those people and their right to be protected by and included in Sri Lanka. That is true victory. The cynical War on Terrorists who say they are just collateral damage have already lost the war because they have given up on those Sri Lankans.
Like the ubiqutious MC Dudes, there will always be jobless and simplistic minions hanging around to tell every passerby that the LTTE is bad. It can be JVP or it can be online. They, however, do not have the courage to go beyond cursing terrorism and engage in the hard, compromising, realpolitik that can truly win this war. Bombing might make you feel better, but it takes actual strategy to win a war. That means you have to put down your anger and take mindful action towards victory, not empty pride.